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Olga Peters/The Commons

Ground was broken on Sept. 15 at the new home of the Brattleboro Music Center on Guilford Street.

The Arts

Musicians at play

Brattleboro Music Center breaks ground on a new building decades in the making

BRATTLEBORO—Brattleboro Music Center’s groundbreaking on Guilford Street started with a fanfare and ended with a group photograph. Between musical interludes, Johann Sebastian Bach acted as master of ceremonies.

The music center turns 40 this year, and its trustees and staff have labored on and off for about 20 years to find a new classroom and performance facility. Earlier this year, the organization announced its purchase of the former Winston Prouty Center building off Guilford Street.

The Prouty Center moved its classrooms to the Austine School campus during the summer.

On Sept. 15, the BMC shared its designs for its new site as part of a lively groundbreaking celebration. Plans include renovations to the existing school building and construction of a 224-seat auditorium. Renovations to the existing school call for 14 studios, a library, a 70-seat recital hall, lounge, office space, and restrooms. Many restrooms. The center’s current building has only one.

“Lots of toilets,” said Austin Smith, principal with Scott Simons Architects of Portland, Maine. “From one toilet to 12.”

If all goes well, Smith expects the center to hold its ribbon cutting next summer.

Urgent need for a new space

BMC’s current center, a multistory house on Walnut Street, has its charms but also its limitations — one restroom, accessibility problems, little to no sound proofing, and limited parking, among others.

Center staff noted at the groundbreaking that some of BMC’s programs resorted to renting space in downtown.

BMC Executive Director Mary Greene said the center bought the Winston Prouty property for about $525,000.

The center achieved this debt-free, she said.

Last year, the BMC raised $1.3 million, Greene said. This money went towards purchasing the building and creating a general endowment for the organization.

The center’s capital campaign is far from over. Greene said the center must raise an additional $1.5 million.

The money will fund three goals, she said. First, completing renovations and construction by next year. Next, establishing a second endowment restricted to building upkeep. Finally, refurbishing the center’s store of musical instruments.

Many arts organizations are challenged by the annual costs of maintaining facilities, Greene said. BMC wants to create the building endowment so its energy goes “to doing what we’re here for — music.”

Doug Cox, chair of the capital campaign committee, reminded audience members — and potential donors — that a society is shaped by where it invests its energy and finances. For two decades, people have invested in BMC.

“We are the beneficiaries of this investment,” Cox said.

The new center represents the “physical foundations under the human community” that is BMC, he added.

Smith said his company interviewed for the new building project in 2009. Eight years and many versions later, he said the center has found a building “with good bones.”

The existing building, which was a school building prior to the Prouty Center’s moving in, is 8,000 square feet, Smith said. The center needs 10,000 square feet for the school and 4,000 for the auditorium.

Just the right size

A small foot print, however, is good, Smith said. It allows BMC to construct exactly what they need.

“[The center will have] a purpose-built auditorium for the first time,” he said.

Standing in the shade after the ceremony, Smith said designing the center required paying special attention to features like studio acoustics.

Another aspect of the project is shared parking. According to Smith, BMC and the Department of Recreation and Parks plan to maximize their event parking by sharing parking lots.

This move reduces the amount of paving needed for both organizations, Smith said.

Don Wells, president of DEW Construction Corp. of Williston, said BMC hosted the most fun groundbreaking he has attended. During the ceremony, Trustee James Maxwell portrayed Johann Sebastian Bach, joking about how proud he was that BMC loved his music but saying he had a few questions about royalties. He also pulled a check from beneath his wig to present to the capital campaign. Faculty members playing music welcomed guests as they arrived, and others sang a song praising the new building.

Wells said DEW can provide site walk-throughs for potential donors, who can contact BMC to arrange a tour.

During the ceremony, Cox noted that Blanche Honegger Moyse — who first worked at Marlboro College to establish its music department and later co-founded the Marlboro Music Festival — founded the BMC in 1952. Cox praised Moyse’s work, saying “she insisted that high quality and broad community involvement are compatible.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #375 (Wednesday, September 21, 2016). This story appeared on page B1.

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